Large food producers and distributors are corporations, and they operate just like any other corporation. They sell shares in the business, and the stockholders expect to be repaid with dividends. A stockholder is basically just a money-lender. When they buy shares of stock, they are essentially loaning that money to the corporation, who promises to pay them a portion of the profits. The difference between owning stock, and just loaning money is that a stock-holder gets paid as long as they own the stock, well beyond when the loan is repaid. It makes them a partial owner of the company. Another difference is that if the company loses money, so does the stock-holder. They share the risk. So a corporation, whether it is a food company, or electronics manufacturer, or whatever…., has a duty to make sure the company is successful so that the stock-holders make money. They do this by increasing sales. In the entire business world, nothing ever happens until something is sold, and payed for. Everything else is secondary to that event. Without sales, everything dies.
With that established, it is easy to understand why large companies go to such great lengths, and spend so much money on advertising, attractive packaging, and anything else they can do to increase sales. And, these functions provide jobs for many other people outside the company, such as radio and TV stations, magazines (all of who operate solely on advertising), places that manufacture labels and packaging, shipping modalities, grocery stores, etc….Under the best circumstances, this should be a good thing for everyone. But, there is a dark side as well….
In their endeavor to increase profits, producers often add fillers and ‘flavor enhancers’ such as large quantities of salt, and Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) to their products in order to use less ingredients, making the cost of production less, and allowing a larger profit on each sale. Of course, these additives are approved by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and FDA (Food and Drug Administration), but they only require that the companies test these additives themselves, at a testing facility of their choice, and submit the results. The FDA never tests anything themselves. They also never check to see if that testing was actually done, in accordance with normal accepted procedures. Some of these additives, such as MSG, have documented long-term health concerns.
To the same end, producers use herbicides, steroids, and insecticides at high levels to increase the yields of crops and animals, often at a cost in nutrition and long-term safety. Foods are also genetically engineered to increase yields, with unknown effects on nutrition and the environment.
Possibly, the worst aspect of this business model that these food corporations also exert great influence on your elected officials to get them to pass laws to make it easier for them to produce and distribute their products, whether it is in the public interest, or not. A case in point is the issue of ‘junk food’ machines in schools. You would think that your childrens school would be concerned enough not to feed them candy and soda’s, since they are known to be especially unhealthy to growing children. Alas, you would be wrong. Schools regularly contract with large food companies such as Mars, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Frito-Lays, etc… to allow vending machines in the schools, and the schools even get to share in the profits. In fact, under most of these contracts, if the school does not meet its guaranteed quota (which most of the time works out to around 50 sodas per student for the year, minimum), they can be forced to pay the difference. In states where the law requires that the vending machines be disabled during lunch-time, these companies actively and aggressively lobby to get the laws changed.
Any law, statute, or policy that interferes in any way with Big Foods operations is quickly challenged, using your elected officials as tools to further their goals. Politicians need money to get re-elected, and lots of it. Here is an example of how much money some food companies spend on lobbying (which is just a politically-correct way of labeling the buying of political favors). These figures are for 2011:
These are just a few of the Big Food companies, and I am not even including lobby groups that represent food company interests, like the American Restaurant Association, the American Beverage Association, etc… there are literally thousands of these organizations, all buying political favors from people you elected to operate in your best interests.
A good example of how the system really works is aspartame (Sweet & Low), and sucralose (Splenda). Aspertame was discovered in the late 1970s by accident while the G.D. Searle Company, who’s chairman was none other than Donald Rumsfeld, was developing a drug for stomach ulcers. It was found to be 180 times sweeter than sugar, with no calories. It was quickly patented, but further testing indicated that it could cause brain tumors and neurological disorders, so the FDA banned it. After Ronald Regan’s Inauguration in 1981, with some hefty ‘campaign contibutions’ and Rumsfeld calling in his ‘political markers’, the newly appointed FDA Commisioner , Auther Hayes Hull, jr. agreed to convene a new 5-person panel to review the Board of Inquiry’s ban. It was quickly apparent that the panel was going to uphold the ban by a vote of 3-2, so Hull appointed a sixth member to the panel to dead-lock the vote 3-3. Hull then broke the deadlock himself, in favor of Aspartame (surprise, surprise, surprise….Hull later resigned under allegations of impropriety). In 1985, the Monsanto Corp. (the Al Capone of the Food World….) purchased the Searle Company, unconcerned about the health risks, and smelling a good money-making deal. And Donald Rumsfeld became the Secretary of Defense during the George W. Bush presidency.
Splenda, on the other hand, was developed by a British company, Lyle and Tate, in 1976. Unlike Aspartame, sucralose (the active sweetener in Splenda) was developed purposely and specifically as a very low-calorie sugar-substitute. It was extensively tested for years, over hundreds of times, and found to be perfectly safe for humans. In 1991, it was approved in Canada, Australia in 1993, New Zealand in 1996, and finally, amid vicious protest from sugar companies, and Monsanto, it was approved in the U.S. in 1998. An immediate public relations assassination program was instituted, especially on the mostly-uncontrolled internet, to cause fears about the safety of Splenda, despite years of safe use in other countries, and a preponderance of evidence attesting to it’s safety. The campaign is still going on. The web is flooded with websites warning of the ‘dangers’ of Splenda. If you check, you will find most of these are funded by the Sugar Producers Association, and Monsanto. There are several petitions in front of the legislature right now to ban Splenda, again mostly financed by sugar companies and Monsanto, and the rest are just ill-informed people who believe the propaganda. A similar campaign is being waged by meat-producers such as Tyson, the Cattleman’s Association, the Dairy Producers Association, , etc… against soy beans. There is no reliable evidence to back either of the petitions claims.
It would be nice if it were possible for people to just read the labels, and avoid products that they don’t feel comfortable with, but unfortunately, most people’s choices are limited to what is available in the grocery stores, and that is controlled by Big Food. Until enough people complain to their elected officials, and demand that reforms in food marketing be enacted, it will continue to be Business-As-Usual. As always, my best advice is to stay informed, get out and vote.
It’s your right….use it, or lose it